The 20 Best Movies on HBO Max Right Now (March 2021)

Why do you subscribe to HBO Max? Almost everyone will have a different answer, but Warner Bros.’s decision to stream every new movie this year on the platform was probably a big attraction. March alone will see the release of both Zack Snyder’s Justice League and Godzilla vs. Kong. But beyond those marquee titles, HBO Max also has an unrivaled lineup of cinematic hits from several decades of Warner Bros. Pictures. It can be a daunting task to look through them all. Thankfully, we’ve already put together a list of the best films currently streaming on HBO Max.

Looking for additional suggestions? We also have guides to the best movies on Netflix, the best movies on Hulu, the best movies on Amazon Prime, and the best movies on Disney+

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Extended Edition (2003)

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was capped off with The Return of the King, which won Best Picture at the Oscars. The Extended Version of the film is now on HBO Max, and it includes several scenes that didn’t make it into the theatrical cut. For example, Saruman’s fate is no longer ambiguous. This is also a thrilling and satisfying wrap-up to the story that began during The Fellowship of the Ring. Just be sure to pace yourself along the way. This one clocks in at nearly four and a half hours, so it can be an endurance test for some. But it’s well worth the commitment.

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Genre: Fantasy, Action, Adventure, Drama
Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving
Director: Peter Jackson
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 263 minutes

Colin Firth in The King's Speech

The King’s Speech (2010)

The King’s Speech is another Best Picture Oscar winner on this list, and deservedly so. The film is a historical drama about Albert Frederick Arthur George, aka King George VI (Colin Firth). George unexpectedly becomes the new king of England following his father’s demise and his brother’s decision to abdicate the throne. On the eve of World War II, George is tasked with giving an important speech to the British people over the radio. However, George’s speech impediment has haunted him for years. Only speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) can help George overcome this problem and become the king his nation needs him to be.

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Genre: Drama
Stars: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce
Director: Tom Hooper
Rating: R
Runtime: 119 minutes

Inception

Inception (2010)

Inception is the film that made Christopher Nolan movies into events even outside of his Dark Knight trilogy. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dom Cobb, a man who steals secrets from the dreams of his targets. However, Dom is literally haunted by his own secrets and guilt, as personified by his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard). But if Dom and his team can plant an idea into the mind of Robert Michael Fischer (Cillian Murphy), then Dom may finally be able to clear his name and put his ghosts to rest.

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard
Director: Christopher Nolan
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 148 minutes

The Departed

The Departed (2006)

Would you believe that Martin Scorsese finally won a Best Director Oscar for The Departed? It’s another Best Picture winner on this list as well as a thrilling crime drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Billy Costigan Jr. and Matt Damon as Colin Sullivan. Billy is a cop under deep cover within the crime family led by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). But Frank also has Colin as a well-placed mole within the police department. As Billy and Colin become aware of each other, it becomes a race to see who can uncover their counterpart’s identity first.

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen
Director: Martin Scorsese
Rating: R
Runtime: 151 minutes

National Lampoon's Vacation

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

Meet the Griswolds, a family that is perhaps among the unluckiest in cinematic history. National Lampoon’s Vacation introduced viewers to Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase); his wife, Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo); and their children, Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron). Clark is so eager to bond with his family on a cross-country trip to the Walley World theme park that he starts slipping into madness as they encounter one pitfall after another. Can Clark’s sanity survive? And will the family stay together after so many mishaps?

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Genre: Comedy
Stars: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Imogene Coca, Randy Quaid, John Candy
Director: Harold Ramis
Rating: R
Runtime: 98 minutes

The Pelican Brief

The Pelican Brief (1992)

John Grisham’s legal thrillers ruled the ’90s, and The Pelican Brief was one of his most audacious stories. Following the assassination of two supreme court justices, a young law student named Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts) comes up with a theory about why they were targeted. Darby’s brief proves to be too close to the truth for the killers, which sends her on the run for her life. Only Washington Herald reporter Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington) can help Darby expose the murderers and find a way to reclaim her life before an assassin closes in on her.

Rotten Tomatoes: 53%
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Stars: Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard, John Heard
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 141 minutes

Adventureland

Adventureland (2009)

Note that Adventureland has nothing to do with the Adventure Land in Disney’s theme parks. But the titular Adventureland is also a theme park within the movie. This story is set in 1987, as James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) is forced to get a summer job at Adventureland so he can afford to attend graduate school. He quickly meets and falls for Emily “Em” Lewin (Kristen Stewart), a co-worker who reciprocates his feelings. However, Em is also having an affair with Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), another employee of the park. Can James and Em untangle their romance before they get torn apart?

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig
Director: Greg Mottola
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

The Green Mile

The Green Mile (1999)

The Green Mile isn’t a typical Stephen King tale of terror. Instead, it largely relies on the horrors that men commit against one another. In 1935, Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) is assigned to be a guard on death row. He soon encounters John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a gentle giant of a man who was sentenced to death for rape and murder. Yet John is not only innocent of these crimes, but he possesses a supernatural gift that can heal — and also punish the guilty. John’s powers force Paul to re-examine everything he thought he knew about his life and what it will mean if John dies for crimes he didn’t commit.

Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
Stars: Tom Hanks, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Clarke Duncan
Director: Frank Darabont
Rating: R
Runtime: 189 minutes

Wedding Crashers

Wedding Crashers (2005)

Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn headline Wedding Crashers as John Beckwith and Jeremy Grey, a pair of divorce mediators who routinely infiltrate weddings for temporary female companionship. However, both men find potential soul mates at a single wedding. And the longer that John and Jeremy remain in the orbit of the Cleary family, the more their real identities are at risk of being exposed. But when it comes to finding real love, neither John nor Jeremy are going to back down.

Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Stars: Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Christopher Walken, Rachel McAdams, Isla Fisher
Director: David Dobkin
Rating: R
Runtime: 119 minutes

No Country For Old Men

No Country For Old Men (2007)

The Coen brothers are known for having a deft comedic touch in many of their films. No Country For Old Men is not one of those movies. Instead, this harrowing tale features one of the most terrifying screen villains of recent memory: Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. After Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) comes across $2 million dollars from a blown drug deal, Anton is hired to retrieve the money at all costs. He leaves a trail of violence in his wake, which forces Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) to question both his faith and whether the world has simply passed him by. There’s no Hollywood ending to be found here, but this is a modern classic.

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Rating: R
Runtime: 122 minutes

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A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born (2018)

We all knew that Lady Gaga was a talented musician, but who knew she could be a great actress as well? Bradley Cooper knew, and he cast Lady Gaga in the lead in his remake of A Star Is Born. Lady Gaga plays Ally, a waitress who gets her big break as a singer when she is discovered by Jackson “Jack” Maine (Cooper). Under Jack’s guidance, Ally’s career begins to take off just as his own career starts to falter because of his health and addiction issues. They literally create beautiful music together, but not even Ally can save Jack from his own inner demons.

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Genre: Drama, Musical
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Elliott
Director: Bradley Cooper
Rating: R
Runtime: 126 minutes

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This Is Spinal Tap

This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

There was no band called Spinal Tap, but that didn’t stop This Is Spinal Tap from taking on a life of its own. Rob Reiner’s directorial debut introduced the musical mockumentary as a genre, while also casting himself as filmmaker Martin “Marty” Di Bergi. Marty covers the story of David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), as “England’s loudest band” threatens to self-destruct over their personality clashes and lack of success. The dialogue in the movie is almost entirely improvised and frequently hilarious. There’s nothing quite like This Is Spinal Tap, and only this movie “goes up to 11!”

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Genre: Comedy, Musical
Stars: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner
Director: Rob Reiner
Rating: R
Runtime: 82 minutes

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Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Three decades passed between the third and fourth Mad Max movies, but that didn’t stop director George Miller from revitalizing the franchise. Mad Max: Fury Road is a brilliant follow up that casts Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky, a role originated by Mel Gibson. More notably, this film introduced Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), and firmly established Theron as an action icon in her own right. Max and Furiosa find themselves in an alliance of convenience against Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a would-be dictator in the post-apocalypse. Fury Road’s visceral action sequences are frequently intense and memorable. Very few movies can match the thrills of this one.

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Genre: Action
Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne
Director: George Miller
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction doesn’t have a traditional narrative, but it does feature some of the most unforgettable characters of the ‘90s. Hitmen Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) just can’t seem to stay out of trouble even in the aftermath of an apparent miracle. In another storyline, aging boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) tries to skip town after ripping off mob boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). Uma Thurman also steals the movie as Marsellus’ wife, Mia. These seemingly disjointed storylines come together beautifully in Tarantino’s incredibly quotable film, which remains one of his very best.

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Genre: Crime, Comedy
Stars: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Tim Roth
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Rating: R
Runtime: 154 minutes

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Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

There have been many Batman movies, but Batman: Mask of the Phantasm may be the best one ever made. This isn’t an exaggeration, as the creative team and the cast behind Batman: The Animated Series created a new adversary for the Dark Knight while opening up a previously unexplored chapter in the life of Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy). In the past, Bruce almost walked away from his destiny as Batman to marry Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delany). But in the present, Bruce’s life is complicated by both Andrea’s return and by the emergence of the Phantasm, a vengeful vigilante whose murder spree has been blamed on Batman himself. Mark Hamill’s chillingly evil Joker is the film’s wild card, and the wonderfully dark animation truly captures the spirit of the comics that inspired this movie.

Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Genre: Superhero, Action
Stars: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Dana Delany, Hart Bochner
Director: Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm
Rating: PG
Runtime: 76 minutes

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One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Jack Nicholson won his first Oscar for his portrayal of Randle Patrick “Mac” McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. While serving a prison sentence, Mac gets himself transferred to a mental institution to ride out his remaining time. However, Mac soon discovers that Nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher) ruthlessly lords her control over her patients, which brings out Mac’s inner rebel. Mac tries to teach his fellow inmates to assert themselves and live for the moment, even as his escalating conflict with Nurse Ratched threatens his chances to ever be free again.

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Genre: Drama
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, William Redfield
Director: Miloš Forman
Rating: R
Runtime: 133 minutes

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Elizabeth Moss in The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man (2020)

Universal wisely moved away from its shared universe ambitions with its stand-alone horror flick The Invisible Man. Director Leigh Whannell re-envisioned H.G. Wells’ classic novel into a more modern story of terror. The actual invisible man isn’t the focus at all. Instead, the spotlight drops on Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), a woman who is desperate to get out of her abusive relationship with the cruel Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a wealthy entrepreneur. Upon Adrian’s death, Cecilia finds herself haunted by an unseen force that slowly destroys her life and threatens her sanity. The movie is particularly terrifying in the small moments where the audience can discern the Invisible Man’s presence right before he strikes again. The Invisible Man is a triumph, and it’s a horror film that elevates the entire genre.

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Genre: Sci-fi, Horror, Thriller
Stars: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid
Director: Leigh Whannell
Rating: R
Runtime: 124 minutes

Watch on HBO Max

Casablanca

Casablanca (1942)

Casablanca, the Oscar-winning film that gave the world the iconic line, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” casts Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman as a pair of star-crossed lovers caught up in the dire events of World War II. Bogart portrays an American expatriate who’s forced to choose between the love of his life and the life he’s grown to love in the city of Casablanca.

Rotten Tomatoes: 99%
Genre: Romance, Drama
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains
Director: Michael Curtiz
Rating: PG
Runtime: 102 minutes

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Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane (1941)

Often cited as the greatest movie ever made, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane chronicles the rise and fall of fictional newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane, who rose from poverty to become a prominent player in American politics. Welles directed, co-wrote, produced, and starred in the film, which famously explores its titular character’s life in an attempt to discern the meaning of his dying words.

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Genre: Drama
Stars: Orson Welles, Dorothy Comingore, Joseph Cotten
Director: Orson Welles
Rating: PG
Runtime: 119 minutes

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Spirited Away

Spirited Away (2001)

Acclaimed filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki and the animators at Studio Ghibli crafted this tale of a young girl who finds herself drawn into the fantastic world of Japanese Shinto folklore after an encounter with a powerful witch puts her — and her family — in danger. To date, Spirited Away remains the only hand-drawn, non-English film to win the Academy Award for the year’s Best Animated Feature and was ranked the fourth-best film of the 21st century in a 2016 poll of international film critics. You can also check out the best anime series on Netflix if you’re looking for more like this.

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Genre: Fantasy, Family
Stars: Rumi Hiiragi, Mari Natsuki
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Rating: PG
Runtime: 124 minutes

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